Report supports independent review of regulatory data

Federal agencies should give the public greater access to research data produced using federal funds, the Cato Institute said in a new study.

The study, written by Cato scholars Michael Gough and Steven Milloy, argues that independent review of data and methodological practices is "crucial for both good science and good public policy," but found regulatory agencies resist efforts to make research public. The Cato Institute is a Washington-based think tank.

After Congress and others were denied access to the data that formed the basis of 1996 Environmental Protection Agency air quality regulations, Congress passed an amendment to the 1999 Omnibus Appropriations bill mandating that the Office of Management and Budget grant the public access to data used for federally funded research projects.

In the EPA case, the study used to support the air quality regulations was partially funded by the EPA and partially funded by the American Cancer Society. The data-collecting methods used for the study were questionable, Gough and Milloy said, but the EPA refused to release the study's underlying data.

According to EPA spokeman Dave Ryan, the portion of the study funded by the EPA has been made public. Other data in the study is the property of the American Cancer Society and can only be obtained through that organization.

Regulatory agencies are reluctant to do anything that weakens their ability to regulate, Gough said. But the government's public safety regulations need to be based on sound scientific evidence, he said.

Critics of the Cato Institute stance cite proprietary and privacy concerns over data for keeping research out of the public eye. Scientists have a proprietary interest in their data, particularly when that information is used in imposing regulations. Protecting the privacy of individuals involved in research studies is also important, privacy advocates say.

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